Contract: LinkedIn, New York

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Published in Contract Magazine, June 2018

When your business revolves around professional networking and employment, it's imperative to keep your finger on the pulse of the global workforce. For LinkedIn, the world's largest such company, it's also crucial to understand its own workforce—a belief that is evident in the designs of its various office locations.

"LinkedIn is always pushing the envelope, creating and evolving spaces to attract, engage, and meet the needs of its members and teams, the people who use the space on a day-to-day basis," says Charlton Hutton, a senior associate at M Moser. The design firm discovered this ethos first-hand while crafting LinkedIn's third-floor office in New York City's Empire State Building.

Quietly iconic New York
Although housed within a famed Manhattan landmark, the office is devoid of obvious, kitschy local references. Upon arrival, visitors encounter much more subtle reminders of the building's history and machine-age inspiration in elements such as preserved original terrazzo and concrete floors, exposed existing columns with rivets, and custom screens composed of McNichols black metal mesh. Complementing these, a refined palette of alabaster, white oak, and bronze reflect the urbanity of the city.

"We wanted an aesthetic that was sophisticated yet fun, and enough variety to inspire and delight even after visiting the space a number of times," says Brett Hautop, senior director and global head of Design + Build for LinkedIn's Global Workplace Services. Turning right at the Corian-wrapped reception desk leads to work areas and conference rooms, while left heads toward the massive 40,000-square-foot cafe.

The cafe's five food stations each offer different cuisines, from Paleo to Latin or Asian fare, and reside within different seating zones. "We identified five unique parks within New York City as the inspiration behind each server," Hutton says. "The intent was not to directly imitate them, but to take away what each means to the local community." For instance, the design team incorporated the High Line as a "linear promenade with touch points along the way." The only recognizable extraction, perhaps, is one food-station wall of colored-glass squares, which alludes to a sight along the actual elevated park. Meanwhile, an intimate corner—furnished with high-end woven-leather chairs by Holly Hunt and a lush living wall—becomes a private dining space via an operable garage door, a nod to the exclusive Gramercy Park.

Flexible solutions
It may be astonishing that a company cafeteria takes up half of the floor plan, but this is more than a food court. LinkedIn currently occupies seven floors within the building, and prior to this third-floor renovation, there was no communal space large enough to accommodate the entire staff of the company's vertical campus. The new cafe finally unites the staff, whether for meals and social events or company town halls in a dedicated public-assembly area. It's also indicative of where office design is moving: "Technology enables work from anywhere and organizations will not want to pay for costly real estate if activities can be done more effectively in other places. What brings people into the office is social interaction, sense of belonging to a community, and a high-quality experience," Hutton says. "We're going to see more emphasis placed on creating spaces for people to connect rather than to do focus work."

The cafe's numerous seating options, which range from communal or high tables to banquettes and high-backed booths, provide these alternative collaborative-work settings. Here, the typical amenities enabling seamless work include wireless connectivity and power outlets embedded in most of the tables and benches. The private dining room additionally functions as another meeting, presentation, or executive luncheon space.

Collaborating with the Steelcase ARC team, who conducted workplace observation studies, M Moser gained insight into end-user engagement, which in-turn influenced the floor plan and furnishings of the designated work zones. These boast just as much variety as the cafeteria does: Quiet phone rooms, seating nooks lining circulation corridors, open workstations for up to 240 employees (primarily sales and marketing), meeting and training rooms of different scales, pantries, and even a game room sporting an oversized chess set ensure that there's an inspired backdrop for every activity, group, or individual. "Companies are recognizing their work environment as a business resource for high performance rather than just a pace to house people," Hutton says.

Branding without branding
In addition to programming, one client requisite was to avoid overuse of the company's logo and signature blue. "LinkedIn didn't want to over-brand the space, so we incorporated the brand color in subtle ways to assist wayfinding," Hutton says. "We used color theory to mark zones, such as soothing blues and greens in quiet zones and bright pops of color in the collaborative areas. These assist the staff in understanding and defining how they act in each space."

A component that's unique to the project is the state-of-the-art broadcast studio where editorial staffers interview LinkedIn Influencers. Situated on the corner facing the buzzing intersection of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, the studio suite is the one spot where LinkedIn occasionally announces its presence to passersby: Perimeter lighting within the suite can color-wash the corner in LinkedIn blue. As an alternative, the company can also program the lighting color in honor of a visiting client or other guest—or, if in a New York state of mind, match it to the color scheme scheduled for the top of the Empire State Building.